Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Shooting Suspect Arraigned — “The man charged with shooting a woman he knew in her Crystal City, Virginia, office on Aug. 28 has had his first court appearance in Arlington County District Court. Mumeet Muhammad was arraigned on three felony counts: aggravated malicious wounding; use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, 2nd offense; and being a violent felon in possession of a weapon.” [WTOP]

Coastal Flooding Discussion — “The Northern Virginia Coastal Storm Risk Management Study will focus on sites in Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, northern Prince William County, and at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority’s Reagan National Airport–as part of an effort to reduce coastal flood risk to people, properties, and infrastructure.” [MWCOG]

ACPD Wins State Award — “The Arlington County Police Department received top honors in the Municipal 5: 301-600 Officers Category in the 2019 Virginia Law Enforcement Challenge Awards.” [Arlington County]

Arlington’s Lonely Turkey Vulture — “Hallmark doesn’t have a card for it – yet – but the first Saturday of September nonetheless is celebrated as International Vulture Awareness Day. And in Arlington, that means a visit to Long Branch Nature Center and Tippy the resident turkey vulture.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Falls Church Sheriff Vehicle Burns — “At approximately 6 a.m., City of Falls Church Police and the Arlington Fire Department responded to a call for a vehicle fire at City Hall… The vehicle was a marked Sheriff’s cruiser and was totaled in the blaze. An officer near the scene stopped a suspicious person for questioning, and subsequently arrested him.” [City of Falls Church]

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An Arlington man previously convicted of a pair of bank robberies in Alexandria is facing more jail time.

Budder Khan, now 29, pleaded guilty today to robbing two pawn shops in Falls Church, federal prosecutors announced. Khan could face decades in prison for the pawn shop robberies, which took place in 2014 and 2015.

Khan was dubbed the “Ball Cap Bandit” due to the hats he wore during a series of local bank robberies in 2016.

More from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:

An Arlington man pleaded guilty today to robbing two Falls Church pawn shops of nearly $800,000 in jewelry and watches.

According to court documents, in July 2014, Budder Khan, 29, entered Route 50 Gold and Jewelry Exchange, forced the store’s employees to the ground using what appeared to be a real firearm, smashed the business’s glass display cases and took jewelry and watches worth over $650,000. Later, in April 2015, Khan entered Top Pawn, again used what appeared to be a real firearm to frighten the store’s employees, smashed the business’s glass display cases and stole jewelry and watches worth over $143,000.

Khan pleaded guilty to two counts of interference with commerce by robbery and faces a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison when sentenced on December 6. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

This investigation was conducted by the FBI WFO’s Violent Crime Safe Streets Task Force which is composed of Special Agents of the FBI, along with Detectives from the Fairfax County Police, the Prince William County Police, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, the Arlington County Police, the Alexandria City Police, the Leesburg Police, Vienna Police Department, Herndon Police Department, Fairfax City Police, Falls Church Police Department, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and in partnership with the ATF, USMS, HSI, and other federal agencies. This task force focuses on investigating the most egregious and violent criminal enterprises and actors operating in the Capital Region.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Timothy M. Dunham, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, and Colonel Edwin C. Roessler Jr., Fairfax County Chief of Police, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander E. Blanchard is prosecuting the case.

Flickr photo by Joe Gratz

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Morning Notes

Arlington Companies in Inc. 5000 — “Inc. Magazine named 34 Arlington companies to its annual list of the nation’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies, the Inc. 5000, while five were part of the exclusive Inc. 500.” [Arlington Economic Development, InsideNova]

Predator or Victim of Injustice? — “On Monday, the Circuit Court in liberal Arlington County will be the scene of a heavy-handed morality play, with prosecutors seeking lifelong incarceration for a young gay man who has already paid an extraordinary price for youthful, nonviolent sexual indiscretions.” [Washington Post]

DCA Construction Update — “Floor framing is underway on a new concourse to replace #Gate35X that will offer new shopping and dining choices and 14 gates with direct jetbridge access to your flight.” [Twitter]

Focus on County’s Vehicle Maintenance Shop — “At 2700 S Taylor St., you’ll find Arlington’s Recycling Drop-Off Center, Earth Products Yard, Inert Materials and Scrap Metal Drop-Off Facility (get your free paper shredding!), Fire Training Academy, and more. It’s also home to the Equipment Division, a full-service vehicle maintenance and repair facility that operates 17 hours a day.” [Arlington County]

Profile: HQ2’s People Person — “Despite being head of workforce development for Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters, Ardine Williams has yet to sit in on an interview with any potential HQ2 employees. While Amazon plans to have 400 workers in its Arlington offices by the end of this year, Williams appears much more focused on the 25,000 it looks to hire in the next decade.” [Washington Business Journal]

Photo courtesy @artsytatiana

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Tebebe Makonnen, charged with murder after a woman’s death at the Embassy Suites in Crystal City, avoided a lengthy jail sentence on a previous charge thanks to a plea deal earlier this year.

The victim, who fell from an upper floor of the hotel onto the interior lobby restaurant below around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, was identified as Makonnen’s mother, multiple news outlets reported. According to WUSA 9, Makonnen and his mother, 63-year-old Zelalem Abedje, were living in the hotel.

Makonnen was arraigned Wednesday morning before Judge George Varoutsos in the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court, prosecutors say. He’s due back in court for a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 18.

In January, Makonnen struck a plea deal with prosecutors in connection to an incident last year, in which he was accused of inappropriately touching an employee at Virginia Hospital Center’s Behavioral Health Unit. The original charge of sexual battery was downgraded to disorderly conduct, and a Circuit Court judge agreed to a recommended 12-month jail sentence, with the entire sentence suspended — making Makonnen a free man, on the condition of treatment for mental health issues.

“The Commonwealth felt it was important that mental health treatment be a component of any disposition in the Circuit Court,” outgoing Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos told ARLnow.

Stamos continued:

Our office agreed to amend the sexual battery to disorderly conduct (also a Class 1 misdemeanor) with an agreed recommendation of 12 months in jail, all suspended for one year, with the added conditions that the defendant remain compliant with his mental health treatment under the supervision of [Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services] as well as refrain from any contact with the victim. Judge Louise DiMatteo ordered the defendant to return to court on January 10, 2020 to review his compliance. Defense counsel made a strong argument that the amendment to disorderly conduct would allow the defendant to avail himself of a broader range of treatment options as programs often don’t allow individuals with sex-related convictions in their programs.

However, in a video posted in March 2018 (below), two months before the Virginia Hospital Center incident, Makonnen talks into a camera and argues that antipsychotic medication has ruined his life.

Makonnen says in the video that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar, but asserts that he was not experiencing any symptoms. He says forced hospitalization is “ridiculous,” the medication he was given “would make me a zombie,” and forced medication is an “injustice.”

Arlington County Police are aware of the video, spokeswoman Ashley Savage told ARLnow yesterday.

Stamos and Savage declined to comment further on the pending murder charge. In addition to murder, Arlington Circuit Court records indicate Makonnen is also being charged with disobeying a court order.

Photo via Google Maps

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Courts in Arlington County will no longer legally declare people drunks and arrest them for drinking alcohol after a federal court ruled the old law unconstitutional.

A full panel of judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a state law called “interdiction” which allows counties to label people “habitual drunkards” and prosecute them for having or drinking alcohol. The judges ruled 8-7 last week that the law left the meaning of habitual drunkards “unconstitutionally vague” and constituted cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

“We hope that this means that our clients can have the debilitating label ‘habitual drunkard’ lifted from them and they can move through their lives without constant fear of prosecution,” said Elaine Poon, the managing attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center which has helped lead a class-action fight in court to overturn the law for the last three years.

Prosecutors in Arlington this week dismissed seven active cases brought under the nullified law, and police have suspended enforcement — though laws against public drunkenness and other alcohol-related crimes remain on the books.

“In accordance with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling, the Arlington County Police Department has suspended enforcement of the Virginia Code sections related to alcohol interdiction,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “No arrests or charges will be sought in relation to those code sections.”

Brad Haywood, Arlington’s Chief Public Defender, said attorneys in his office were notified about the change Thursday morning when they showed up to court, and his office was “ecstatic” to hear the news last week.

“This has been an issue that defense attorneys and social workers have been fighting for decades,” he said. “Since the first day I’ve worked a public defender 15 years ago there were concerted efforts to overturn this law.”

Case Dismissed 

The case, Manning v. Caldwell, is named after Roanoke man Bryan Manning. A judge declared Manning a “drunkard” nine years ago under the interdiction statute without Manning present because the man, who is homeless and had struggled with alcohol addiction for several years, can be difficult to find. Over the next eight years, Manning racked up over 30 charges related to possessing alcohol or being suspected of drinking it, and the frequent arrests often cost him jobs and led to him losing his possessions.

Manning isn’t the only one: in Arlington, one interdicted man has been charged 37 times, per data the prosecutor’s office shared with ARLnow.

The same data shows 12 people have been interdicted in Arlington since 2015, and in total there are 50 interdicted in the county — with each person averaging 19 prosecutions. Between 1996 and 2015, there were 1,220 people legally declared drunks across Virginia, reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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Morning Notes

Family Sues Metro for Va. Square Death — “A family has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), claiming negligence in the death of a man who lay down on the tracks at the Virginia Square rail station in July 2017.” [NBC Washington]

Jury Duty Process Starting Soon — “The Arlington Circuit Court… will soon begin its annual juror qualification process. Juror questionnaires will be mailed in early August to randomly selected residents of Arlington County and Falls Church City.” [Arlington County]

Tech Company Relocating to Arlington — “Still fresh off of raising millions in venture capital funding, Amify Inc. is leaving Alexandria for a larger space in Arlington just a few blocks from Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters. The company, which markets, sells and ships products for other companies on Amazon, has signed a three-year lease with JBG Smith Properties to take over the Crystal City space that was last rented by Trustify Inc., an embattled tech company that’s now in bankruptcy.” [Washington Business Journal]

Plaque Proposed for Wilson School — “Gone but not forgotten. That’s the hope of historic-preservation advocates when it comes to the Wilson School in Rosslyn… Plans for an historic marker noting the school’s provenance are wending their way through the county government’s approval process.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Exec Tapped as Accenture CEO — “Accenture Inc.’s board of directors has promoted Julie Sweet, a Greater Washington executive who now serves as the company’s North American CEO, to the top job of global chief executive effective Sept. 1. Her ascension makes Sweet, based in Arlington County, the 34th female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.” [Washington Business Journal]

Nearby: Update on Flooded Commuter Routes — “After time-consuming repairs, the District Department of Transportation reopened Canal Road between Reservoir and Foxhall roads late Monday morning…. In McLean, a rain-swollen [Pimmit] Run undermined a large section of Kirby Road. VDOT said the work to repair the road and embankment will take weeks.” [WTOP]

Flickr pool photo by John Sullivan

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Daniel T. Lopez was ceremonially sworn in last Friday (May 17) as a General District Court judge, becoming the first Latino to serve as a judge in Arlington County.

“I’m very proud to represent my community,” Lopez told ARLnow.

Michael F. Devine, a circuit court judge for the 19th Circuit in Fairfax County, administered the investiture ceremony.

Lopez and his family were joined by members of the Arlington County Bar Association, as well as Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th) and Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), who helped shepherd his nomination through the General Assembly.

“I was honored to be on hand with Delegate Hope to present the Commission at the Investiture of Daniel Lopez as a Judge of the General District Court for the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit,” said Del. Lopez, who shares a last name with but is not related to the new judge. “Judge Lopez is immensely qualified and a truly wonderful person. If his work over the years as a substitute judge is any indication, he will be an exceptional judge for our community for years to come.”

A 22-year Arlington resident, Judge Lopez had previously served as a substitute judge in the Circuit Court and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts. He said he was delighted to become a full-time judge.

“It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for years,” he said.

Lopez was also pleased to be the first Latino to serve as a judge in Arlington. Judges should reflect the community they serve in, he said, and having a Latino on the bench in such a diverse county was a sign of great progress.

Friday’s investiture ceremony was not Lopez’s official swearing in. That will take place 3o days prior to July 1, when he signs the oath of office and begins his six-year term on the General District Court bench. Lopez will succeed Judge Richard McCue, who is retiring.

“My job is to uphold the Constitution and to be fair and impartial, and make sure everyone is welcomed and respected in the courtroom,” he said.

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Morning Notes

Crystal City BID Proposes Expansion — “The Crystal City Business Improvement District has submitted its proposal to Arlington County to officially expand its borders into Pentagon City and the county’s portion [of] Potomac Yard as Amazon.com Inc. prepares to establish its second headquarters in the area collectively branded as National Landing.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Planning More Housing Initiatives — “Even by its own estimation, the Arlington County government’s success rate in stemming the exodus of affordable housing in Arlington has been hit-or-miss, and the local government at times has been viewed as unimaginative and overly bureaucratic by those who want to see more aggressive efforts at building and retaining housing accessible to lower- and middle-income residents.” [InsideNova]

Twilight Tattoo Begins Tonight at Ft. Myer — “Our 2019 Twilight Tattoo season is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, and run through Wednesday, July 31, with exception to July 3 and July 10, 2019… Twilight Tattoo is an hour-long, live-action military pageant featuring Soldiers from The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and The U.S. Army Band ‘Pershing’s Own.'” [Military District of Washington]

Stressed Out Judges at Crystal City Immigration Court — “One of the most backlogged immigration courts in America is in Arlington… 7 on your side witnessed and heard of additional tense exchanges in court from multiple judges stressed with the ever-increasing caseload.” [WJLA]

Nearby: ‘Woodchuck’ Scam in Falls Church — “The City of Falls Church Police are investigating a “woodchuck” scam that has cost a victim thousands of dollars. Police caution City residents to be aware of predatory services, especially for tree removal, landscaping, roof and chimney work, and other home services.” [City of Falls Church]

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The owner of a Clarendon gym who pleaded guilty to trying to buy large quantities of cocaine from undercover police officers has been sentenced.

A federal judge sentenced Pascal Laporte to four years in prison today, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia announced this afternoon.

Prosecutors say Laporte thought he was buying two kilograms of cocaine from a Mexican cartel for $50,000, but was in fact meeting with undercover Fairfax County Police detectives. They say that Laporte planned to sell the cocaine and promised future purchases of up to 100 kilograms.

More from a press release, via the U.S. Attorney’s Office:

An Arlington man was sentenced today to nearly four years in prison for his role in purchasing 2 kilograms of cocaine from undercover detectives.

According to court documents, Pascal Laporte, 40, intended to purchase 2 kilograms of cocaine from undercover Fairfax County Police detectives who purported themselves as members a drug cartel based in Mexico. For over a year, Laporte expressed to a confidential source his need for a cheaper supplier of cocaine who could provide him with kilogram quantities. Laporte first met the undercover detectives in early August 2018 at a restaurant in Tysons Corner, to discuss pricing per kilogram and the quantity Laporte desired. Laporte told the undercover detectives it would take him a week to sell off 1 kilogram of cocaine.

In the weeks leading up to his arrest, Laporte communicated with the CS his desire to start with the purchase of 2 kilograms of cocaine, and if the arrangement went well, he would then purchase 10 kilograms, and then upwards of 100 kilograms per month. Laporte even traveled to Miami with the intention to find a means to transport the cocaine himself to the Northern Virginia area in an effort to obtain the cheapest price per kilogram. Laporte was arrested in August 2018 as he was inspecting the cocaine that he was to purchase. He brought $45,000 to the meeting, as partial payment for the 2 kilograms.

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The Arlington Juvenile Court Services Unit is looking for volunteers to help with a new program helping families affected by domestic violence.

The Safe Havens Supervised Visitation and Exchange Center opened in January and supervises children during visits with parents accused of abuse. It’s also a safe meeting place for parents with shared custody who need to exchange children for visits, but may need to be kept separated from each other.

Safe Havens is seeking volunteers to spend eight hours a month at the center helping with tasks like escorting children between rooms.

The center is hoping volunteers can also help answer phones, assist program coordinators with record keeping, and keep an eye on supervised visits after being trained in the center’s procedures by staff.

The goal of the facility is to “improve safety for the community at large, eliminating the need for families in conflict to meet in public places” per the county’s January announcement of its opening.

The Safe Havens center is located at the county’s Stambaugh Human Services Center (2100 Washington Blvd) in Penrose. During the weekdays, the facility is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. On weekends, it’s open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

A county spokeswoman said the center is especially in need of volunteers who speak Spanish, and have experience working with children and families in crisis.

Judge George D. Varoutsos, who is Chief Judge of the Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, previously said he was “thrilled” to see the center open.

Arlington’s Project PEACE, a group dedicated to ending sexual and domestic violence at the Department of Human Services, was tasked by Varoutsos to create Safe Havens after the judge said he realized supervised visitation “has been missing from the array of services that we can provide victims of domestic violence in Arlington courts.”

Interested volunteers are asked to contact Safe Havens coordinator Joanne Hamilton at 703-228-4021.

Photo via Arlington County

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(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington’s top prosecutor has won the endorsement of 50 local attorneys, a key feather in her cap as a former public defender mounts a primary challenge attacking her credentials as criminal justice reformer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos (D) announced the news in an email to supporters yesterday (Thursday), writing that it’s “gratifying to know that I have earned the respect and endorsement of so many local defense attorneys.” She’s hoping to win her party’s nomination for a third term in office, in her first intraparty challenge since winning the job in 2011.

Parisa Tafti, who currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and has worked in D.C.’s public defender’s office, is hoping to oust Stamos for the job, arguing that she’s been insufficiently committed to reducing racial and economic inequities in the criminal justice system. Arlington’s public defenders have been similarly critical of Stamos on a variety of fronts in recent months.

But Stamos argues that this latest show of support from many of her nominal adversaries in the courtroom reflects well on her “record of competence, fairness and decency.”

“She has a well-earned reputation as someone who knows when to take a stand against violent and career criminals, but appreciates that incarceration isn’t the answer to people who make mistakes or suffer from illness or addiction,” the attorneys wrote. “While we may not always agree, Theo has always maintained an open-door policy, listens respectfully to opposing counsel and responds in a principled, thoughtful, and responsible way.”

Notable members of the group of lawyers endorsing Stamos include Denny Rucker of longtime Arlington firm Rucker & Rucker and Jim Korman, a decorated divorce lawyer from prominent Arlington firm Bean, Kinney & Korman.

Bruce Deming, who frequently represents local cyclists and pedestrians struck by vehicles, also joined the letter, as did Dave Albo, a former state delegate who practices as a DUI lawyer in Arlington.

Tafti has picked up some prominent endorsements of her own in recent months, including support from the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The former governor has made a series of endorsements in local commonwealth’s attorney races recently, targeting prosecutors who opposed his efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons, Stamos included.

Tafti has criticized Stamos over the issue in the early days of the campaign, in addition to charging that her efforts to reform the county’s cash bail system have been ineffective — lead public defender Brad Haywood agrees with her on that front. However, even though she worked in leadership roles for the county’s Democratic Committee, Tafti has yet to attack Stamos for her decision to twice cross party officials and endorse independent John Vihstadt in his runs for County Board.

Stamos recently offered a bit of a mea culpa for those endorsements to local Democrats, citing her long family ties with Vihstadt. She’s also defended her record as a prosecutor as one that balances the rights of victims and defendants, pointing to her decisions to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses and to embrace diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

Voters will decide the primary contest on June 11. Primaries are also shaping up in some of Arlington’s state legislative races, though only Katie Cristol has declared a run for re-election with two County Board slots on the ballot this fall.

Photo of Tafti, left, via Facebook

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